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Five Ferrari F1 launches which warranted the hype

Later today, Scuderia Ferrari will reveal the Formula 1 car in which its drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. will hope to topple Mercedes-AMG in 2021. In light of the occasion, we turned back the clock and dived into the Girardo & Co. Archive to find five memorable Ferrari launches which warranted the hype…

2002 Ferrari F2002

“I think it is the best F1 Ferrari ever.” Ferrari’s then chief designer Rory Byrne pulled no punches at the lavish presentation of the F2002, a car which looked a lot like its title-winning predecessor but in reality was extensively redesigned. In hindsight, Byrne was absolutely right to make such a statement.

Such was the devastating pace of the F2002 that Michael Schumacher clinched his fifth World Drivers’ Championship at the French Grand Prix in July with six races to go, a record that stands to this day. Ferrari won 15 of the season’s 17 races and one of its drivers finished on the podium in every race. Job done. 

1990 Ferrari Tipo 641

The Ferrari Tipo 641 is widely considered to be among the most beautiful Formula 1 cars of all time. There’s even one in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

What’s especially remarkable, then, that it was designed not in Maranello, but in Surrey. When Ferrari poached designer John Barnard from McLaren at the end of 1986, he didn’t much fancy moving to Italy, so persuaded Il Commendatore to open the Guidford Technical Office. Yes, really. Designs were faxed page by page to Maranello, where they were painstakingly realised.

For 1990, the reigning World Champion Alain Prost joined Nigel ‘Il Leone’ Mansell at Ferrari, hence the number one proudly emblazoned on the nose of the Tipo 641 (a mild evolution of Barnard’s game-changing 640). Mansell’s nose was swiftly put out of joint when his new teammate’s political play soon saw him become the team’s number-one driver. Mansell left at the end of the season with just one win under his belt.

Prost on the other hand won five races and was in the running for the title until his arch-nemesis Ayrton Senna put paid to that by famously running him off the track at Suzuka.

2004 Ferrari F2004

In 2004, the Scuderia’s so-called ‘Dream Team’ arguably reached its peak. The F2004 was Ferrari’s 50th Formula 1 car, and to say it honoured its milestone mantle would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Ferrari won 15 of the 18 races – eight of which were one-two finishes – on its way to the World Constructors’ Championship and Michael Schumacher clinched his fifth consecutive and then-unprecedented seventh overall drivers’ title. The joviality of the presentation in Maranello somewhat contradicted the scalpel’s-edge performance of the automotive star of the show. The numbers (and the noise) speak for themselves: 605kg, 10 cylinders, 865HP and 18,300rpm. Gulp.

1992 Ferrari F92A

Ok, so the hype surrounding the Ferrari F92A wasn’t the good kind. An all-new design for 1992, the car featured a number of innovations including separated sidepods that, in our eyes, look a bit like the ‘pontoon’ fenders on the 250 Testa Rossa, a raised nose and a ‘double-fat bottom’ floor, designed to mimic ‘ground-effect’. Alas, as a package, the F92A didn’t work.

Jean Alesi dragged it to just two podium finishes that year and his new Italian teammate Ivan Capelli made such a poor showing that he was fired before the season was out, replaced by Nicola Larini for the final two races. ‘Lamb to the slaughter’ is what springs to mind when we look at these photos of Capelli at the launch of the car. Here’s hoping Carlos Sainz Jr. doesn’t face the same fate!

From a visual point of view, at least, time has been kind to the F92A. It might have been one of Ferrari’s greatest flops, but we reckon it looks absolutely sensational!

2007 Ferrari F2007

Compared to the extravagant affairs of the Schumacher era, the Ferrari F2007 arrived with surprisingly little fanfare. Especially considering the rollercoaster season that followed. A handful of photographs of the car – resplendent in its new, slightly darker shade of red – were distributed to the press, none of which showed the rear of the car, no doubt to stop other teams spying its sensitive aerodynamic arrangement.

Felipe Massa briefly tested the car behind closed doors at Fiorano the same day (note the hordes of paparazzi clambering at the public section of the fence to see), while his new teammate Kimi Räikkönen got his maiden Ferrari outing at Vallelunga the following week. It was all very low-key, in stark contrast to the bullish presentations of the early noughties and telling of the Prancing Horse’s cautious start to its post-Schumacher era.

A titanic season-long battle for the title went down to the wire, Räikkönen clinching the Drivers’ Championship from Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso by one point after the final round in Brazil. And that’s before you factor in the ‘Spy Gate’ scandal which saw McLaren disqualified from the standings. Schumacher’s were big shoes to fill, but it’s fair to say the ‘Iceman’  filled them.

Photos courtesy of the Girardo & Co. Archive. Click HERE to discover more than three million motorsport images dating back to the 1970s.

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